WILMETTE, Ill. (WLS) -- Wilmette police have more than 270,000 items stored pending trial in floor to ceiling palettes, stolen goods including over the counter medication, beauty products and more recovered from a retail theft distribution ring that spans from Chicago to both coasts.
The year-long investigation began in Wilmette with what police initially thought was a simple retail theft, over the counter medication stolen from a local drug store. Officers said they discovered where the medication was being illegally fenced.
"Which then led us to physical surveillance, and we were able to determine that this was a much larger operation than we originally anticipated," said Kyle Murphy, Village of Wilmette police chief.
Murphy's team working with Chicago police, Illinois State Police, Shorewood police, even federal Homeland Security Investigators and uncovered what they say was a massive retail theft operation in Chicago and the suburbs.
"The estimates are during the course of this year-long investigation, this case is probably valued at somewhere in the neighborhood of about $40 million worth of stolen merchandise," Murphy said.
The hundreds of thousands of items recovered are worth an estimated $7.5 million, Murphy said. The rest were shipped and sold online police say to people and third party distributors as far as California and New York.
"They remove all the identifying information from the retailers, they might even adjust the expiration dates on those items and then they ship them out to various locations where they're then resold on the online marketplaces," Murphy said.
Eight people were arrested; five from the Chicago area, three from California.
Those defendants are facing theft, money laundering and financial charges.